The Munich Security Conference has begun, with conflict-ridden Mali and Syria most likely to top the agenda. US Vice President Joe Biden has already arrived in Berlin ahead of the annual conference.
The Munich Security Conference opened its doors on Friday afternoon in the Bavarian state capital, with the 49th edition boasting a larger attendance than last year.
Opening the conference, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of transatlantic security ties.
"For the US, Europe may not be the best conceivable partner in the world, but it is without any doubt the best possible partner," he said.
De Maiziere also said he was optimistic that the US and Europe could rely on each other as both regions turn towards Asia.
In terms of the French intervention in Mali, he stressed that "it was right and imperative for France to intervene" but added that developing viable long-term peacekeeping structures is a “highly complex process.”
He called for France to “play a more prominent role within NATO” and said, "We wish for the United Kingdom to play a bigger security role in the EU."
Following de Maiziere's speech, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and former World Bank chief Robert Zoellick held a panel on the eurozone's sovereign debt woes.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and much of her cabinet, with 60 German parliamentarians attending in total, are set to take part in proceedings - along with the highest profile foreign guest, US Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden landed at Berlin's Tegel airport on Friday morning for talks with Merkel ahead of the conference. Barack Obama's deputy was expected to use a keynote speech at the annual conference to outline US foreign policy for Obama's second term.
Syria and Mali in focus
The United Nations-Arab League special envoy to war-torn Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was also scheduled to appear in Munich, along with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and representatives of the Syrian opposition. Russia - represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov - the US and the UN were to hold informal talks with the Syrian opposition on the sidelines of the conference. Lavrov's deputy, Gennady Gatilov, told the Reuters news agency, however, that there were currently no such plans.
The Munich Security Conference is billed as a low-key event, at Munich's luxury Bayerischer Hof hotel, which world leaders use to informally discuss world conflict and other defense issues.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian are to both appear, as their country's military continues its three-week-old mission in northern Mali.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was set to speak in Munich as was the EU's top diplomat Catherine Ashton, who on Friday visited Berlin for talks with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle ahead of the conference.
msh/pfd (AP, dpa, Reuters)
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